AP NEWS

NJ Sen. Booker stumps for fellow Dem Espy in Mississippi

July 21, 2018
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U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, watches as Democrat Mike Espy pledges to work across party lines, during a brief speech in Jackson, Miss., Friday, July 20, 2018. Booker also spoke on Espy's behalf. Espy is in a special election to fill the final two years of a term started by Republican Thad Cochran. Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed to temporarily succeed Cochran, and she is running. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey campaigned Friday for fellow Democrat Mike Espy in a U.S. Senate race in Mississippi, saying Espy might go against him and many other Democrats in Washington.

Booker — who introduced himself as a descendant of slaves and a Confederate soldier — said it’s not unusual for Southern Democrats, including Alabama’s Doug Jones and Florida’s Bill Nelson, to disagree with other Democrats in the Senate.

“They put people first, before party,” Booker said. “And so I know that that’s what Mike Espy is going to do.”

Espy is one of three candidates challenging Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in a November special election, and the winner will serve the final two years of a six-year term started by longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran.

The Mississippi election is crucial as Republicans try to hold onto their slim Senate majority.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed Cochran when the 80-year-old senator retired in April.

Hyde-Smith and Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel pledge to be allies of President Donald Trump. Democrat Tobey Bartee, a Gautier city councilman, is also running.

The special-election ballot will not list party labels, and there are no party primaries for it. If nobody wins a majority Nov. 6, the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will go to a Nov. 27 runoff.

In 1986, Espy became the first African-American to win a U.S. House seat in Mississippi since Reconstruction, and in 1993 he became President Bill Clinton’s first agriculture secretary.

Mississippi has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1982. Although the Mississippi Legislature chose two African-Americans to serve in the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction, no black candidate has served in the U.S. Senate from Mississippi since Senate seats have been chosen by voters.

Espy and Booker appeared together in a conference room shared by the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson. Though technically separate entities, the two museums that opened last year are under one roof and share a lobby and the conference room. Espy said he wants to be like the shared space of the building.

“We want to be that bridge that connects all Mississippians of good will,” Espy said.

The Hyde-Smith campaign declined to comment Friday, and efforts to reach Bartee were unsuccessful.

McDaniel campaign spokesman Tanner Watson said in a statement that it’s unlikely any Democrat would work across party lines.

“The majority of Mississippians spoke loud and clear when we elected Republican Donald Trump as our president and the notion that Mississippians will now turn around and elect a Democrat just isn’t feasible,” Watson said.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .